About Michel Therrien's constant line juggling, and what some term his bizarre decisions, do we not remember how last season every time he made a line change or tweak, it came up aces? I'm struggling to remember specifics, although the kid line was one, and putting Brandon Prust with Alex and Brendan was another, but everything he touched turned to gold, the line he'd conjured up would go on a scoring streak for three or four games, pick up the slack from the others that didn't click.
We need to factor this in to our analysis of the current situation. He had success mixing and matching lines last season, so it's understandable that he'd resort to it now. Further, if we fault him for some moves that clearly aren't working, let's credit him with all the moves that did work last season. Let's not pretend that he's Typhoid Mary now, but that he wasn't King Midas last season. In effect, he should be drawing down some of the kudos he accumulated last season, with a last-place team he took to second in the conference. He's not starting at zero.
So yeah, putting Lars Eller on left wing isn't yielding dividends now, but if he'd pulled that move last season they'd have set the league on fire. Yet we wouldn't call the coach a genius, 'cause we plain don't like the gruff diseloquent sod.
And yeah, putting P.K. on with Douglas Murray doesn't seem like an inspired decision, but you can just see the coaches in their office, shrugging their shoulders, reluctantly admitting that it's not clicking with Josh or even Andrei now, so they think to themselves: "Well, he used to play well with Hal Gill, let's give Douglas a shot at it..." Again, if in a couple of games they stabilize and become an effective pair for the rest of the season, and Andrei and Alexei do the same, we won't throw Michel Therrien a party, we'll look for warts elsewhere.
And to all the keen-eyed observers who rail against playing Alexei Emelin or Francis Bouillon or Nathan Beaulieu on the right side, what is the solution? We only have two righties, P.K. and Raphaël Diaz, everyone else is a leftie, right down to Davis Drewiske. Now in Hamilton, the funny thing is, our two blue-chippers Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu are also lefties, but everyone else is a rightie. Greg Pateryn, Darren Dietz, Magnus Nygren before he high-tailed it back to Europe, all righties. Dalton Thrower is a rightie, as well as every other defenceman in the pipeline, except for Mac Bennett. So the organization, looking long-term, has taken the shotgun approach to rectify this imbalance.
In the meantime though, we're going to have to play left-shooting defencemen on the right on at least one pairing. There's no way around it. But as was discussed in the leadup to the Canadian Olympic Team selection, lefties are used to playing on the right, they've probably had to do so at some point in their career. When I was playing minor hockey, I played with two other D-men, and we were all lefties, so we had to adapt. We'd each take a turn on the far side, then the side closer to the bench, then take a short break on the bench before getting back out there. Probably our best defenceman, who was a rightie, was constantly injured, but when he was around, our coaches would send him out there for most of the game, meaning someone else (me) had to sit more. He never had to sit, or play off, he got lots of icetime on his natural side, whereas we all pitched in and played right on the second pairing.
The Canadiens, and l'équipe Plomberie Langlois aren't the only ones dealing with this though. The Canucks for example only have Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev as righties on the blue line, everyone else is a leftie. There is callup Yannick Weber, who has been playing forward/#7 defenceman and picking up powerplay minutes but hasn't been able to really crack the lineup, even as a rightie.
So yeah, righties, since they're more 'rare', usually never have to play on the left, they always get to play on the right, since they don't have competition. So our lefties will have to learn to adapt. And this brings us to the case of Raphaël Diaz.
I've long been a booster, a champion of his. The 2012 season, I was glad to see Roman Hamrlik not re-signed, and advocated that Jaro Spacek should sit in favour of Raphaël, Yannick and Alexei, who all needed to play I thought. Alexei eventually proved himself worthy, Yannick did not and was not retained. Raphaël showed flashes, but he suffered injuries and we had to be patient. Until this season. He simply hasn't progressed enough in the three years he's had, and some of that may not be his fault, but he had a huge opportunity by virtue of being a right-handed defenceman, and he didn't seize it. So now before this summer we have to re-sign him to a UFA contract, and Gaston Therrien of RDS was saying the negotiations were for a 3-4 year deal at 3-4 million per.
Now normally I'll preach patience with kids and prospects, but Raphaël is no longer one, he's a full-fledged player, and he's not showing enough to merit that deal. If he was still an RFA, or if there was no limits on rosters and contracts and salary mass, maybe we could risk it, but these limits exist, and going on the evidence in front of us we can't justify that deal. He's not big and strong enough for the league, and his offence, which we hoped would bloom this season, after injuries and concussions the last two seasons, simply has not come around. For him to be worth keeping on the roster, he'd have to have a Mathieu Schneider-esque influence on our roster, be what Torey Krug is to the Bruins, the undersized kid who creates offence and goals with his skating and passing and smarts. Instead, he's having an anemic influence on our powerplay, so much so that Josh Gorges or Francis Bouillon don't look that much worse on the second pairing.
Next season we'll have P.K., Andrei (probably), Alexei, and Josh earning big bucks on the back end, along with the triumphant return of James Wisniewski (trust me on this one, it's too good not to happen) adding to the payroll. The other defencemen will need to be cheaper, more cost-effective, either rookies like Jarred or Nathan, or cheapies like Douglas at $1.5M per. We won't be able to play an ineffectual #5 D at $3.5M, that will be too much of a squeeze on the cap. So thanks Raphaël, it's been nice knowing you, but we're sending you to Nashville for a second-rounder.
So my hope is that the Canadiens don't re-sign Raphaël, but rather trade him at the deadline. Or, if he does sign a contract, I hope it's much more on the lower end of the range that Gaston Therrien reports.